Sunday, November 12, 2006

Moderate Republicanism, a footnote

In the 1970s I was the Chapter President of a group of "moderate" republicans called the Ripon Society. Ripon was made up of a strange mix of people. I would say the thing that bound us together was a strong commitment to ideas. We spent a lot of time working on new policy approaches to various public areas. When I was chapter president we had some very interesting discussions about major ideas - we were very committed to a volunteer army and some interesting ideas about tax policy (many of which were ultimately reflected in the 1981 and 1986 tax acts). We also believed in incentives rather than mandates. Finally, there was a strong blend of social justice in our thoughts.

Some of Ripon's leadership became prominent. George Gilder, who I remember as a bit daft, went on to be a successful policy writer and then a techno-prophet. In one of our national board meetings, George was supposed to be there but kept missing the airport all weekend. We kept getting phone calls that he had flown to New York (where the board meeting was) only to have gotten lost in thought when the plane landed and then carried off to some other place (Hartford or Cleveland were two places that I remember). All weekend we had a picture of a guy who kept getting so caught up in his ideas that he forgot to get off the plane. Patricia Goldman became a member of the National Transportation Safety Board and has stayed in Washington for a variety of public policy activities.

In October of 1973, we held a fund raising auction almost immediately after the Saturday night massacre. We raised a lot of money because we had secured a doodle from Elliot Richardson, who had been axed the weekend before as attorney general. It was at that time that I began to think that Robert Bork was a lot less than he portrayed himself to be. (When he was nominated for the Supreme Court I thought he would have been a lousy justice, but that is another story.)

Ripon's members began to drift apart about the time that I left Washington. They drifted into three distinct groups. One hand drifted toward libertarian philosophy. As the 1970s and 1980s progressed some of us saw increasing evidence that massive government programs are prone to rent seeking and other failures that economists like James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock began to point out in the literature of public choice. A second group drifted toward the democrats. Charles Goodell, who was a senator from New York, would have probably moved there had he lived. Certainly, his wife seemed to move toward that direction. Although one wonders how comfortable some of those people were in their new roles - the democrats increasingly moved away from a support for some conservative principles. Finally, there was the group like Jim Leach, who was defeated on Tuesday, who stayed in the republican party. That branch seems to have been pretty much obliterated in Tuesday's election. But then some of us thought it was many years before this one.

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